President Reagan first designated April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month in 1983. Since then, organizations around the country have commemorated the month with activities and events. Here in Tulsa, members of the Parent Child Center Youth Council (PCCYC) placed 1,658 pinwheels at the Parent Child Center campus to represent each substantiated case of child abuse in Tulsa County in 2013.
Nationwide, an estimated 3.8 million allegations of child abuse or neglect were responded to by child protective service workers in 2012. An estimated 686,000 children were confirmed victims of child maltreatment.
Most states recognize four major types of child maltreatment: Neglect; Physical Abuse; Sexual Abuse; and Emotional Abuse. According to the latest national data from The Children’s Bureau’s Annual Report on Child Maltreatment, the most common form of abuse in 2012 was neglect, comprising 78.3% of all substantiated cases. 18.3% of cases were the result of physical abuse and sexual abuse made up 9.3% of cases.
Researchers have identified factors associated with increased risk of child abuse or neglect, and studies show multiple factors indicate a greater risk. Not surprisingly, many of the risk factors are associated with poverty and lack of education. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, some of the most common factors are:
- Immaturity: “Young parents may lack experience with children or be unprepared for the responsibility of raising a child.”
- Unrealistic Expectations: “A lack of knowledge about normal child development or behavior may result in frustration and, ultimately, abusive discipline.”
- Stress: “Families struggling with poverty, unstable housing, divorce, or unemployment are at greater risk.”
- Substance Abuse: “The effects of substance use, as well as well as time, energy and money spent obtaining drugs or alcohol, significantly impair parents’ abilities to care for their children.”
- Intergenerational Patterns of Abuse: “Parents own experiences of childhood trauma impact their relationships with their children.”
- Isolation: “Effective parenting is more difficult when parents lack a supportive partner, family or community.”
Tulsa is fortunate to have several community organizations whose mission it is to prevent, treat, and intervene in cases of child abuse. These agencies educate parents and the public about issues involving child abuse and offer the support families need to address child maltreatment, including mental health services for victims. In Tulsa County, important community resources include:
- The Parent Child Center, which helps to prevent child abuse through parent, child and community education. Their efforts consist of the “Never Shake a Baby” program for new parents and the “Kids on the Block” puppet show that brings educators into schools to teach kids how to protect themselves. They also offer other services to protect children through family safety and support services, and provide treatment for parents and children to bring healing and break the cycle of abuse.
- Family and Children’s Services (F&CS), which provides parent education, crisis intervention and family counseling services. F&CS also offers other services in Tulsa, such as Women in Recovery (WIR). WIR helps women involved in non-violent, drug related offenses avoid prison by taking part in an intensive outpatient program.
- The Child Abuse Network (CAN), which serves as a coordinator for multiple agencies, allowing medical, mental health, investigative and legal professionals to come together under one roof to investigate abuse and protect children. They are located at the Justice Center, which is designed to streamline the process of investigating child abuse and minimize trauma to the child.
- Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), which advocates for victims of child abuse by training volunteers to speak in court for the best interest of abused or neglected children in state custody.
Many times, the intervention and treatment services these agencies provide depends first on child abuse being properly reported. Every person in the state of Oklahoma who has a reason to believe a “child under the age of eighteen (18) years is a victim of abuse or neglect” has a duty to report the matter to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS). The OKDHS Abuse and Neglect Hotline is 1-800-522-3511. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Child abuse has long-term consequences for both its victims and society as a whole. To learn more about these issues, you can check out the following resources:
- Why Child Abuse Prevention Month Matters, at the Child Trends website.
- Abuse in Numbers, at the Parent Child Center of Tulsa website.
- Long-Term Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect, by the Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- The Lifelong Effects of Early Childhood Adversity and Toxic Stress, by Jack P. Shonkoff, Andrew S. Garner and others. Published by Pediatrics, the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.